January 24, 2014
A follow up to “Gay Marriages Confront Catholic School Rules”
I am grateful to Rick’s posting on the issue involving the employment status of Mr. Zmuda at Eastside Catholic in Seattle, WA. I agree with Rick that we will see more and more of these cases in which employees of Catholic institutions manifest their disagreement with fundamental Catholic principles not because of thoughts, or in the case of Eastside Catholic—sexual orientation, but because of actions. Here we can recall the truth that underpins one of the old legal maxims: actions speak louder than words.
Rick’s posting raises the issue of discrimination that some believe has been applied to Mr. Zmuda. But this issue pertaining to discrimination mandates further scrutiny. The question is not whether this man has been discriminated against but, rather, has he been discriminated against unjustly. For example, if Eastside Catholic discharged him on grounds that he did not have the qualifications he claimed on his resume that are required for the post he holds, the ensuing discrimination in terminating his employment would not be unjust but, rather, just. To put this matter more broadly, none of us discriminate against someone who claims to be an excellent barber, doctor, lawyer, plumber, carpenter, etc. if this person does not, in fact, have the training, other credentials necessary, and the competence to perform the services which are claimed to be within the competence of the person when in fact they are not.
When it comes to role modeling the virtuous life of one who wishes to be an example for young people, a Catholic educational institution would not be unjustly discriminating against someone if he or she claimed the virtues but did not, in fact, exercise them in his or her personal life. Thus, Catholic parishes and dioceses have not unjustly discriminated against financial stewards whose employments were terminated when it was discovered that these employees were embezzling funds from the parish or diocese.
I understand Rick’s point about certain privacy matters where a person may not wish his or her sexual orientation, income, tastes in music, preferences in literature, or views on the status of the unborn, and other topics becoming targets of public scrutiny. But marriage and the announcement about it is a public matter because it is a public institution as well as a matter of personal intimacy. When someone announces the fact that one is married (or supports abortion, or is “pro-choice”), this person voluntarily enters the public square and asserts his or her views about issues that concern the common good and the Church’s teachings. By making an announcement about one’s marriage, he or she says something about himself or herself in the context of a public institution. Regarding the institution of marriage, the Church has something to say about this because she has very clear views on this public institution.
The student who is quoted in the Times article mentioned by Rick and who contends that, “It was just shocking that the Catholic Church would turn its back on a teacher for something that didn’t affect his work performance” is wrong. As Rick notes, this is an important question because Mr. Zmuda’s acts do intersect his work. Why?
Mr. Zmuda is teaching by his example, and his teaching is contrary to the Church’s clear teaching on the subject of marriage. If the students do not hear the reasons for why this man was dismissed, might it be due to the fact that first principles of the Catholic faith are being minimized in their importance at Eastside Catholic? Might it be that these teachings and their justifications are being given short shrift at Eastside Catholic? If Eastside Catholic is not doing its job of teaching the faith or doing it well, it is a matter that has an impact on Mr. Zmuda and Eastside Catholic’s work performance because students are led to believe and accept something that they should not be led to believe and accept as true or as proper or as virtuous or as something only involving one’s private life.
As Rick also notes, there may be more of these incidents at both Catholic institutions of education but also other organizations which bear the moniker Catholic. If this is indeed what is to materialize, and I think Rick is correct on his surmise, then let me offer a bit of hope as to one course of action that might be pursued: the incident involving Mr. Zmuda should give all of us concerned about his dismissal the opportunity to better understand how the integrity of the Catholic faith intersects our public institutions including the law. This objective will also assist the faithful to understand more clearly our faith by comprehending what it is that the Church teaches and why she teaches what she does.